Tag Archives: zen

Miles Davis: “So What” trumpet solo on guitar

All my life I’ve been mesmerized and intimidated by jazz guitar. I’ve wanted to play jazz so badly, but didn’t believe that it would ever be within my grasp.

Until now.

Turns out the only thing that had to change was my thinking. My beliefs. “I AM a thriving, talented, successful jazz guitarist.” “I AM able to learn jazz guitar.” “I AM someone who enjoys the challenges involved in learning new things.”

Over the past week or so I assigned myself a new challenge: to learn the first solo (Miles Davis on trumpet) of Miles Davis’ “So What” on the guitar. Note for note.

The last three bars on this page took me on a two-hour journey of exploration and discovery. (This is not my transcription.)

This solo is about 2 minutes and 5 seconds long. When I woke up this morning, I could play all the way through 1 minute and 19 seconds of it. After about an hour and a half of practice, I can now play through 1 minute and 23 seconds of it. An important lesson for me here: it took me nearly two hours to move forward 4 seconds. The cool thing is, I ENJOY that challenge. It’s fun and exciting to think that almost 2 hours of work is needed for me to gain only 4 seconds of the solo… when I’m able to do the whole thing, it’ll mean a lot more than simply 2:05 of guitar playing… It will represent my energy, my love, and my passion… my willingness to change my mind about how I see the world… about how I view myself and my abilities. 

Another interesting point: As I was learning that new 4 seconds of material, I found myself spending a lot of time on one 6-note phrase. I played it over and over. I explored different ways of playing that same phrase, and found THREE different places to play it on the neck. Now I had an interesting decision to make: WHICH way should I focus on? As I explored deeper, I found that one way seemed the most simple because I could base the entire phrase on two adjacent strings, but there was quite a horizontal reach with my pinky involved. This option kept me well within my comfort zone.

The second path took me farther down the neck, utilized three strings, and involved a whole-step upward slide with my index finger on the high “e” string. A little more challenging, but all movement was on adjacent strings, so this was still within my comfort zone.

The third path involved string skipping; reaching up with the pinky from the 2nd string to the 4th string, up 5 frets. This took me well outside my comfort zone and even made me stop a minute and wonder, “can I even DO this??” I can’t recall purposely skipping strings during a solo. Then I thought of Steve Vai. Steve Lukather. Larry Carlton. All of my heroes. What would they do? Do they skip strings while soloing? Or do they only move across adjacent strings? These guys don’t practice to success; they practice to failure. That is, they don’t simply practice something until they can do it right… they keep practicing beyond that, until it’s second nature… until the rare occasion of goofing up happens… then they practice it even more.

When I realized this was a limitation that was holding me back, I decided to practice it some more. I quickly ditched the first path. Decided the second path on the high “e” string sounded too whiny/trebley. Went with the third path. Worked on it for awhile… not sure how long, lost track of time.

Then, following my intuition, I backed up and practiced the approach and entry into this new phrase. Of course that felt completely foreign at first, but after a few tries, I began to see how the phrases connected. As I became more comfortable, I realized I was creating new neural pathways in my brain.

I’m not in a hurry. I’m not trying to get this solo down before Tuesday, or by any sort of deadline. At the same time, I do feel motivated to learn the whole thing and get it into my fingers… into my bones, so that it becomes mine. I’m practicing at least a little bit every day, even if that means just running through what I know once or twice to make sure it’s still there. When I was a young teenager at the local public swimming pool, I remember challenging myself to learn how to do a gainer off the high diving board. Not having any sort of lessons, I didn’t know how to go forward with any sort of formal process for learning this new skill. So I just ran off the end of the low diving board and threw myself into the air, trying as best I could to approximate that backwards flipping motion without cracking my head on the diving board.

After many false starts, I finally did it. Sloppy. Dangerous. But I did it. After doing that a hundred times or so, I decided to try it from the high dive. After facing down a terror that made me want to vomit, I finally did it. The interesting thing was that I was never satisfied with doing it only once. There was no victory in that for me. No. I had to prove to myself that I could do it repeatedly. So only after doing it dozens of times over the course of an entire summer would I allow myself to say, with any sort of confidence, “I can do a gainer off the high dive.”

This is sort of the same. It’s one thing to patch together the phrases of this solo and to execute them all in a row one time without making a mistake. It’s an entirely different thing to be able to visualize where my fingers will land and hear the notes in my head as I’m lying in bed. A whole different animal to be able to play it without analysis, without thinking about where the next notes will come from. Without counting beats.

Of course, this is simply one step along the path. Since everything in this realm is temporary, my ability to play this solo will diminish and disappear. The guitar I call ‘mine’, as much as I love it, will change hands. Disintegrate. Be destroyed, sooner or later. This body I call ‘mine’ will collapse and return to ashes. There’s no trophy here to be claimed with any sort of finality. Like everything we can see, hear, taste, touch, feel, or think, this experience is temporary. Finite. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The joy for me is that, in the midst of this understanding, I can fully embrace the spirit and passion of learning this solo. Even as we know leaves on a tree will end up on the ground come autumn, in this moment they can blow wildly in the sunshine, glinting sunlight and brilliance. And understanding that we can’t make them shimmer forever, we can still appreciate their beauty in this moment.

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Abundance Consciousness and the Art of Taking Full Responsibility

When we talk about ‘abundance consciousness’, what exactly do we mean?

Do we mean an attitude of, “Everything’s fine!”, no matter what is hitting the fan at a particular moment? Burying our heads in the sand in order to avoid discomfort? Magical, wishful thinking?

No.

Abundance consciousness simply means a focus on gratitude; acknowledgment of all the blessings that are, in fact, showering down upon us. Right now. As we speak. And it goes hand-in-hand with the art of taking full responsibility for our lives right now. In this very moment.

For example… I once worked for a food bank in the southern U.S. My job was to inspect 360 food pantries in 21 counties, ensuring that certain quality standards were met. One month I was inspecting a particular food pantry. The next month, now unemployed, I found myself visiting the very same food pantry. But this time, instead of carrying a clip board, I was empty-handed, and asking for food.

In that moment, I remember feeling a wide variety of emotions, most of them fear-based. Yet I realized that I had the choice to either focus on what I did NOT have, or to focus on what I DID have. I chose the latter, focusing on gratitude, and it moved me in the direction of happiness and the recognition of the abundance that was already present in my life. I shifted my focus to my arms and legs, which were still serving me quite well. I focused on my hearing, my eyesight, and other aspects of my physical health. I thought about how nice it was to have a car. To have a roof over my head. To have the privilege of having my own apartment. Of living near supermarkets. And food pantries. Of receiving this generous offering of food from this particular food pantry on this day. I shifted my focus to my good fortune of learning just a little more humility… of knocking just a few more rough edges off my jagged little ego.

And I remembered that I had choice. I had the choice of getting fired up, updating my resume and getting it out into the world. Knocking on doors. Getting up early. Hitting the pavement. Researching. Making phone calls. Following up. Smiling. Being friendly. Cheerful. Polishing my strengths and sharing them. Working on my weaknesses to improve them.

Focusing on gratitude helped me to keep my chin up during this time, and helped motivate me to move forward. Yes, there were times of intense pressure that required keen focus and sustained action. Times when the adrenaline was flowing and my nerves were rattling. But my focus on abundance consciousness helped me to remember that I had many talents, abilities, and gifts at my disposal; that it WAS worth trying, risking, and continuing to get back on that horse, no matter how many times I felt I’d been thrown.

I’m not so sure I would have taken the same path, made the same choices, and maintained the same positive outlook had I focused on deprivation and all that was going ‘wrong’ in my life.

I chose abundance consciousness, but I did not choose to try to shut out discomfort. (Okay, maybe once or twice.) It IS possible for us to choose gratitude while simultaneously choosing to fully experience all of our emotions, including discomfort. This discomfort can propel us forward, motivating us to persist in our efforts toward healthy, positive change. While discomfort is, by definition, uncomfortable, it certainly isn’t in-and-of-itself ‘bad’. It’s a signal. A street sign. A tool. It’s information. And if I let myself sit in its presence long enough, I can come to the understanding that it’s my teacher. My cheerleader. Maybe even one of my best friends.

Abundance consciousness does not say, “everything’s fine; no need to change.” Abundance consciousness says, “Wow… look at all the tools I have! Let’s get busy!”

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Van of forgiveness

We break out the board.

Two $500’s. Two $100’s. Two $50’s. Six $20’s. Five $10’s. Five $5’s. And five $1’s.

Take a few spins around the board. Then… what’s this? Hidden money appears magically from beneath a certain corner of the board. “I was just saving it.”

Tension mounting. Temperatures rising. Just a game? In and of itself, yes… But moreover, a game that serves as a doorway into Pandora’s Box of stuffed emotions. Anger. Fear. Frustration. Pain. Sadness. Grief.

Why these changes? Why a different world? Ask at your own peril.

Soon, board pieces will fly. The little hat will be lost forever, and the statue of the guy on the horse will end up beneath the refrigerator. The game will be rendered ‘off limits’ for one week, relegated to the top shelf of the parental closet.

But what of the broken hearts? (The broken hearts, they sing… the broken hearts, they sing.) Innocent children pulled the game out. They are not to blame.

And it was innocent children who pulled the game out forty years ago. Lost, confused, surrounded by parents who drank. Parents who shot out the street lights with handguns, laughing all the way to the front door. Parents who disappeared. Parents who died with the engine running and the garage door closed.

Innocent children sent overseas to live with a sister. Scarred for life, at the hands of a brother-in-law.

Innocent children who found one another and did the best they could in a frightening world.

Innocent children who pulled out the game EIGHTY years ago. Doubled over with pain, gripping one’s stomach… flying into the night. Coming to a very abrupt stop.

Innocent children. Looking back across the generations, nothing but innocent children, as far as the eye can see. Aching for love, acceptance, compassion.

My brother stands up. Turning around, he spreads his arms wide. Generations of innocent children straighten up in their folding chairs, leaning forward to hear.

My brother clears his throat and speaks: “Only one remedy: Love.” he says.

“Love fills the tank of my van of forgiveness.”

He walks around the van, kicking the tires of understanding. Carefully washing the windshield of hope.

“This van doesn’t stop til the end of the line,” he says. “Hop in. There’s room for all of us.”

And as I turn from the pots and pans to look out the back door, scouring pad in hand, I see my brother, Johnny Boy, escorting a crowd of souls; helping them as they file, one by one, into his van.

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Growing pains

Change. It can feel so exhilarating. And so frustrating. All rolled up in the same enchilada.

Joyful Exhilaration

The music, connection, and promotion of our new kirtan band, Blue Lotus Feet, has been an amazingly natural process. It has all just fallen into place, blossoming where seeds happen to fall. It feels like a rare occurrence in my life when collaborating musically with others has felt so easy and so rewarding. (My involvement with Fancy Shampoo is another joyful example that comes to mind.)

The musical fruit that has been ripening for the past 6 years is bursting forth with beautiful seeds and delicious, fragrant flowers. My Macbook, M-Audio Firewire Solo interface, and GarageBand have been fantastic, reliable tools on that path of my journey. I’d gotten to the point where I could pretty quickly and easily create a recording that I could be proud of, and I had six solo albums to show for it.

But finally, after at least a year of research and consideration, I realized that I was becoming ready to take things to The Next Level and upgraded to Apple Logic. With that step has come many joyful realizations and “Eureka!” moments. Today, in a further realization, it became clear to me that I’ve simultaneously outgrown my ability to only record with one mic at a time.

The Frustration of Tech Limitation

Cheryl and I spent most of today working on tracking vocals and guitar to add to the kick-ass drums you played the other day for Om hari om shanti. After hours of hard work, we ended up frustrated, with no final product to show for our efforts. The problem? Only one mic capability. In order to capture her singing and playing guitar simultaneously, the plan came down to this: 1) record a scratch track with the mic pointed halfway between mouth and guitar’s soundhole. 2) Go back and track only guitar while listening to Scratch Track. 3) Go back and record only vocal while listening to Scratch Track. 4) Get rid of Scratch Track; vocal and guitar tracks should sync up. Should.

Problem is, that process doesn’t capitalize on the most important aspect of a dynamite recording: namely, a comfortable, natural performance. One of Cheryl’s many talents is her ability to consistently perform great takes, time after time, when singing and playing simultaneously. Take away the ability to capture both sound sources simultaneously while throwing in the additional (and unnatural) need to try to match what you did in the last take, and the “natural, joyful, heart-focused performance” goes out the window. Replaced by an analytical, “head-centric” exercise in musical dexterity. Math.

Gosh, with the ability to use two (or more) mics simultaneously, we could have gotten down to business right away and spent our day capturing magic instead of trying to devise workarounds.

Solution?

Focusrite Saffire Pro 40. Eight (8!!) mic inputs for simultaneous mic’d performances. To say nothing of the multiple line inputs (guitar with pickup, keyboard, etc.).

To be clear, ‘it ain’t about the gear’. In my opinion, there are quite enough rich lawyers and surgeons out there with time and money on their hands to collect top-shelf gear to show off to their friends. While G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) can definitely play a role in a musician’s choices, at the end of the day the key virtue is perspective. The music comes first. Capturing the music comes second. Excellent equipment capturing crappy music results in an excellent recording of crappy music. Crappy equipment capturing excellent music can result in a decent, listenable album. But a balance between high-quality gear and high-quality music… THAT’s the goal most of us aspire to achieve.

The downside: the learning curve involved in becoming proficient with Apple Logic has just been compounded by another new piece of gear.

But that’s okay. I’m in it for the Long Haul. I’ve been squeezing juice out of my current setup for six years… and squeezing juice out of whatever system I could for the past 30. The most important thing for me to remember is not to rush the learning process. It took time for me to get comfortable with my old rig; it will take time for me to get comfortable with this one. The difference is, when I do reach that level of comfort with this system, the possibilities will be much more far-reaching.

Here’s to patience, persistence, and recognizing every opportunity to be joyful in the Present Moment.

Peace.

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The “glamour” of being a recording musician

I’ll admit, when I decided that this was the week to make the transition from GarageBand to Apple Logic, I didn’t realize I’d be joining millions of others around the world. But with Apple’s highly-anticipated release of Logic 9.1.7 on Tuesday, that’s exactly what I’d done.

Initially, I’d suspected that the lengthy application download process, measured in days rather than hours, was somehow the result of a mistake or oversight on my part. (Wouldn’t be the first time, and certainly won’t be the last.) But once I started digging into the online forums of fellow musician/producer/Mac users, it began to dawn on me that I’d thrown myself into the equivalent of a worldwide historical (hysterical?) event.

Yet while the idea of helping to ‘make history’ (if joining hordes of fellow consumers in purchasing a downloaded product may be seen as making history) seems pretty sexy to me, the reality isn’t nearly as romantic.

And while the idea of being recording musician working on his 7th album may seem pretty sexy to the casual observer, the reality isn’t nearly as romantic.

I’ve been enamored of music and musicians since I was a toddler, moved by music from the beginning. I signed up to be suckered by my favorite rock stars as soon as I was old enough to hold a tennis racket. I shelled out my hard-earned teenage-wage cash as soon as I was tall enough to reach the record store counter. And for years (decades) I’d assumed that the images I’d seen on the covers of my favorite albums reflected the way my heroes actually looked in day-to-day life.

You know… Ace Frehley circa “Dynasty”, eating a bowl of cereal in the morning with silver cape flowing behind him, gently brushing up against the refrigerator. Steve Vai doing dishes. (Steve, honestly, do you ever have to do the dishes at your house?)

In the process of buying the whole ‘rock star’ shtick hook, line, and sinker, I was simultaneously accepting another unspoken un-truth: that if I am not larger than life like they are, then I’m less than. Which, in turn, lead to the whole mistake of believing that if I’m less than, then I must present myself to be greater than in order to fool others into thinking I’ve got my act together. The whole ‘public relations’ game, whereby good (that is, ‘sellable‘) albums are 75% cool packaging and 25% decent music. Until success ends up having nothing to do with music, and everything to do with promotion and sales.

Yuck.

A dear friend recently split my skies open the other day on the phone, when he related a story about John Lennon eating breakfast. Apparently some fan was outside his house, and a news crew was there, as well, just hanging out. So John and Yoko go outside, and John’s like, “Hey, what do you want?” And the fan is all, “Oh, your lyrics are amazing… and these lyrics meant this and those meant that,” and on and on. And John stopped the guy and said, “Don’t know what you’re talking about. I was having a snack and those words popped into my mind, so I wrote them down. It rhymed, so I used it. I’m just a guy. Are you hungry? Wanna join us for breakfast?”

Just a guy.

Though it goes against all the rules of “how to make it” as a musician in today’s hyper-saturated world of Logic-downloading freaks and geeks (currently slowing the internet down to a glacial pace), the truth is, he nailed it. I’m just another dude. Not supposed to admit that, I know. Supposed to have the kick-ass profile photo on every website that sells my music… so the kids will think I eat caviar in between takes. Because if being a musician is romantic, then the writing and recording process must be really glamorous.

Would that it were true.

I’m currently writing and recording my seventh album.” Translation: I’m currently going home after work and going into the spare bedroom where all my music gear is set up (“the studio”) and peeking at my laptop to see if Logic has finished downloading yet. I’m currently untangling my guitar cable and trying to move the bills and other paperwork off of my desk so I can open my guitar case and pull out my electric guitar. Better yet…

  • I’m currently turning on my guitar amplifier and wondering what those crackling sounds are and realizing with some trepidation that it might finally be time for me to actually learn how to change the tubes.
  • I’m currently erasing my 14th attempt to record a vocal track because, once again, it sounds like I’m trying too hard to sound like I’m not trying.
  • I’m currently searching for my phillips screwdriver so I can remove the backplate of my bass and replace the two (2) 9-volt batteries that power my active pickups… the same batteries that just died in the middle of a recording session.
  • I’m currently getting into my car to go to the grocery store to buy two (2) 9-volt batteries because I just realized the house is completely devoid of them.
  • I’m currently shopping online for an external hard drive that will easily store the 6 years worth of music on my computer so I can free up some space to continue recording.
  • I’m currently changing my guitar strings because I tried to fix my wife’s glasses and failed, and had to resort to cutting off part of my e-string to replace the teeny-tiny screw in her glasses until she can make it to the optometrist.

In the end, I think, not much of the creative process is nearly as sexy or glamorous as we (as observers) might initially believe. Most of the struggle for me seems to be in dealing with my own worst enemy: myself.

The swirling cloud of thoughts is often in the room, and no fun to deal with: Will I cave when my inner critic starts ranting about how these current efforts suck? Will I crumble when friends say they don’t care for a particular line? Will I be annihilated when no one buys my cd? Will I freeze when I try to play this song live?

What some may see as glamour is so much more often the dumping, quite literally, of old coffee grounds, the cursing of the grounds that miss the kitchen garbage can and land on the floor, and the search for the latest can of cat food as the cat cries with reckless abandon, eager to be fed after an insurmountable night between meals (“No night could be darker than this night, No cold so cold, As the blood snaps like a wire, And the heart’s sap stills, And the year seems defeated…”) as one tries in vain to satisfy those mundane, earthly requirements long enough to get back to the blank canvas.

If there’s a sexiness… if there’s ever been some sort of glamour, it lies in those tiny moments between ‘doings’, during playback, with headphones on, discovering that the vocal harmonies actually DID work, and sound like a choir. Or that the difficult passage that had to be “punched in” actually sounds very natural. Or that the previously ‘unplayable’ song is now quite withing one’s grasp for live performance.

Paradoxically, the only real glamour is that which is completely internal, having nothing to do with the perceptions and opinions of observers. Kinda funny, since the whole concept of glamour relies upon having an audience. No audience, no glamour. (If a woman gets out of a taxi and there’s no one there to see her diamonds and finery, is it still glamorous?) So maybe we’re talking ‘joy’ rather than ‘glamour’.

Either way, that spark of joy holds within it the fire to fuel a thousand galaxies. Or seven albums. Whichever comes first.

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And now for a moment of pure self indulgence

Half of me is trying to kill ‘the ego’

While the Other Half tries desperately to prop it up

The 2-D shadow…

A collection of memories

Desires (memories of pleasure)

Fears (memories of pain)

that someone mistakenly keeps referring to as ‘me’.

How curious.

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Focusing on contentment

Just spoke with someone I know who just turned 21. The day before his birthday, he was called into his lawyer’s office and presented a check for $9,000, as part of a settlement for an accident he suffered last year.

I asked if he’s saving it. He said it’s already gone.

Week-long road trip. Hotel suites. Parties. And now, a week later, he’s right back where he started: unemployed and broke.

It got me to thinking about my own financial practices and my beliefs about money. How often have I wanted my oompah-loompah and wanted it NOW, and followed that emotional pull all the way into debt? Far too often, in my past.

How about now? I have to confess that like the young man I spoke with, I still, at times, catch myself disregarding the blessings in my life and focusing on what’s lacking; on those items that I could purchase that I believe would make things perfect… “If only I had this particular __________, THEN I could be happy.”

What a beautiful reminder to come back to the present moment. To now. To grace. To contentment with what I have, and with what I don’t have. To gratitude for having enjoyed so many blessings with so many wonderful people. I’ve already had a really good run.

Where I point my eyes, so follows my mind. Where I point my mind, so follows my life.

http://merman13.livejournal.com/115973.html Edric Hsu's calligraphy: "Happiness is to be contented with what you have."

Focusing on gratitude. Getting out of debt. Saying “no” to the inner child who throws a tantrum from time to time. Enjoying the feeling of self discipline; finding beauty in that little cringe of disappointment. Enjoying the challenge of creating something new and beautiful with only the tools at hand. Like that famous jazz ethic… “everything I need is already in the room.”

If you’d handed me $9,000 when I was 21 years old and asked me what I’d do with it, I’m pretty sure I’d have made the same choice he made. “I’m gonna live it up!”

Here’s to setting the intention that I’d save or invest, given that option today. And here’s to saving and investing right now, today, with the resources I have at hand.

So I can live it up.

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